Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19 information for families and young people (NDIS participants 7-18 years)
Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19
MARY: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to today's webinar. Before we beginning I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we're meeting. I would like to pay my respects to elders past and present including any Aboriginal people who may be on the webinar today.
Thank you for participating in this webinar. We acknowledge that the COVID‑19 situation has been incredibly difficult for many people, particularly for children and young people with disability and their families. And we know you've been hit hard by this situation. Not only do you have concerns about the actual infection itself, which many families and young people with disability and their families have been self‑isolating because of that fear, but we know that daily life has become much harder. And so, therefore, we're delighted to be joining with the NDIA for this webinar to really go through some of the questions that people have had and aiming to provide you with the latest and up to date information.
We know for many of you the move to remote learning has been very hard, and that, you know, whilst schools haven't been in a physical space, that that has put additional pressure. So we will touch on some of that in our questions today as well.
So thank you, everyone, for joining us. We want to also before we begin acknowledge the really hard work ‑ and I have just realised I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Mary Sayers I'm the CEO of Children and Young People with Disability Australia. And we acknowledge the work that the NDIA has done to adapt and be flexible in these times. And very unprecedented times and the speed with which the NDIS has made decisions has been very much appreciated. We look forward to hearing from Scott McNaughton but before we do I want to go through some housekeeping. If you check the audio settings at the bottom of your screen to make sure the speakers are working well. Hopefully you can hear us. The webinar as you will see we have Auslan interpreting as well which you should be able to see on the screen along with the speaker. The session will also have live captions. And they will be visible at the bottom of your screen. But if for some reason you can't see them, click the CC button at the bottom of your screen to access the captions.
The session today is also being recorded. ... technology issues, please stay logged in. We will be back up and running as soon as possible. Hopefully that won't happen.
In relation to what we will be covering today, you know, thank you when you registered for sharing your questions with us. We have compiled a list of the top 10 questions and there was some commonality in the questions. We hopefully will get to all of the 10 questions in the webinar today. But as we're going through, you may also have more questions. And you will see at the bottom of your screen there's a Q&A function. And so the Q&A function will be monitored throughout this webinar and it allows you to ask some questions throughout the webinar, some of which we might be able to answer just by posting back to you. And some of them we will be able to ask Scott when we've finished the 10 questions as well. But if there's any questions that we can't get to, then we'll actually ‑ then we'll actually endeavour to get back to you afterwards.
What we won't be able to do today is going to individual or specific circumstance‑based questions. And we ask if you do have any of those questions that in the Q&A you put your contact details and then we'll hand them on to the NDIA so that you can actually get a response to your individual circumstances. So please be patient. We hope we get to all your questions. But, you know, of course we only do have an hour.
So now it's my great pleasure to introduce from the National Disability Insurance Agency the general manager of national delivery, Scott McNaughton. And Scott has worked at the NDIA for six years and has a long and distinguished career in the public service, including working at the Department of Social Services, the Department of Human Services and now the National Disability Insurance Agency.
I also had the pleasure of working with Scott many years ago but we won't say how many years ago today. So what's going to happen is Scott is going to do a brief introduction to how the NDIA has been responding to the COVID‑19 situation. Before we open up the Q&A and go through the top 10 questions you have provided us. So thank you very much, Scott.
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. Thanks again. Lovely to see you again. Yes, we were a bit younger and less grey back in the day when we worked together, well I was anyway. We really welcome the work that CYDA is doing in such an important time for all of us. I would like to pass on my apologies from Martin Hoffman our CEO who is unable to be here today. But I know he was part of the CYDA session earlier this week. And he said that was a really good session and asked me to come along today. So I'm really pleased to be here. It really is a challenging time for people, isn't it? You know, this COVID pandemic is changing the way we go about our daily business, our usual routines have changed, we're spending a lot more time at home, we're spending less time in our community physically, and it's led to a whole range of changes we've all had to make. It's very disruptive and challenging. Our real collective aim here know NDIA is to make sure we continue to provide as much access as possible the quality disability services because as much as we can maintain the delivery of those services now, it will be really important that once the restrictions are lifted, that people can get on with their ‑ accessing their services, potentially how they used to access them before COVID was upon us.
And I just really want to reiterate that one of our key objectives here is to make sure that the health and safety of our participants, of carers, of families, and of course our staff and our providers is paramount. It's really, really important that we're protecting the safety of everyone, which has meant we've had to make some changes to the way that we implement the scheme, support our participants.
But we have made some really important changes to help respond to COVID. And really, this has been focused on providing as much flexibility as we can for families to address their child's disability‑related needs. We've also been extending people's plans. And we know that this is a really good safeguard for participants who may not have been able to have a plan review for whatever reason. We're automatically extending people's plans for up to 12 months. And what this does is just creates that certainty and lets people continue to get those key supports that they've been accessing.
In addition to that we are trying to create as much flexibility as possible so people can access their disability supports. We're also created a dedicated phone line with our National Contact Centre so if people have queries or concerns around COVID‑19 they can call our contact centre ‑ I think if you press number 5 and you go to the dedicated team there who can explain to you about using your plan flexibility or even connect you into our specialist planning team if you need to make an urgent change to your plan because of anything to do with COVID.
In addition, we're making calls to around 62,000 participants, our more vulnerable participants to essentially check in on them see how they're going, make sure they've got the right information, the right supports and they're connecting to services as best they can. Of course we've shifted most of our planning needs now to phone‑based and that's really in response to the physical distancing rules. And the feedback from that has been quite good. And we're having conversations with people around their plan reviews and the ability for people to actually extend their plans for up to 24 months now, to create any more longer term certainty for people so they can get on with their plans and connect to their services. So a number of changes we've been making to respond to COVID.
We do know, though, and we're hearing a lot of this, that what ‑ one of the things that has been a response to COVID is the way that we're changing the nature of delivering services and the way the providers are delivering services. And a lot more use of tele health and practice and therapies to ensure participants can continue to get their key supports even if it's not in a face‑to‑face delivery model. And we're seeing some really innovative approaches emerge because of that, which we think is great. Some things can't be delivered via that way. We know that. But there is a lot that is, which is fantastic. And we're seeing video conferencing, we're hearing about smart devices and smart TVs being used for therapies, Zoom calls like this to connect with people. So we think that's really important. And that's one of the reasons the Minister recently announced, our Minister, Minister Robert announced a better supported use of flexible funding to help with the purchase of low‑cost assistive technology up to $1500. This really helps participants maintain their disability supports. And this new approach is really in response to those face‑to‑face services now being delivered online, and helps those supports continue to be accessed by participants who may not have those devices already. So this is a time limit policy up until September this year. We will review it to see how it's going in July but we understand that's been well received so far. And I would encourage people to talk to their service providers around that. Or contact us if you would like more information but that might well come up in some of the questions later.
We also know that supporting school‑aged children is a real ‑ it's been a real change and a real challenge. And can I just say personally I've got two daughters, one is doing VCE remotely and we're having our ups and downs, that's for sure, at home and I know how challenging this is for families and my wife acts as an integration aid. Hearing how she has had to adjust how she supports her students, no doubt it is a challenge for people. But we are also hearing some good things around how education systems are responding. And so it has been a change. And what we do know is education is the responsibility of the State and Territory governments but the NDIA does have a role to play. In particular, that is working with participants, working with families to ensure they have the disability‑related supports they need, and that they're in place during this time. So children, young people are ‑ with disability they can continue to learn and continue to access their key supports during this period. Because we, like all governments, are committed to the ongoing education of all students, including students with disability throughout this period. We're starting to see in the media some different approaches across the country with schools returning or staggered returning. We think that will continue to happen. Those decisions are, of course, decisions for State Governments so that's not for the NDIA to comment on that, of course, but we will see a progressive return to some sort of schooling we suspect over the coming weeks and months.
And we really encourage parents and guardians, participants, you know, to continue to use their plan's flexibility, to continue to talk to their schools, talk to their providers and to make sure that we can provide those key supports that those children need so they can continue to engage with the education system or through their other therapies and capacity building supports at home.
So that's been really, really important message for us to continue ‑ for parents is to continue those conversations with providers, with their therapists about how they can continue to support delivery of those at home. Whilst the education system, of course, will continue to provide, you know, the various things such as accessibility, equipment, assistive technologies in the schools, which you would expect under the normal circumstances, and the scheme will continue to fund what we can fund those therapists and personal care and other supports at home that are required. And, again, if ‑ my message to everyone out there listening: use your plan flexibility. If you're not sure how to do that, contact us or your local area coordinator who can give you much more information about how that will work. And speak to your providers because providers are doing some really good things around supporting people during this time. And please contact us on our hot line ‑ on our dedicated number through our call centre if you have got any specific questions.
I just want to close ‑ before we move on to questions, Mary, just to say that really our key ‑ a real key area of focus for us is to make sure NDIS participants continue to get their disability support they need during this time. What we do know it is a changing environment for everyone. Use your plan as flexibly as you can. Contact us or your local area coordinator or your early childhood coordinator to get as much support as you can. We have set up a specialist team of planners within the agency who can assist with any information, make any plan adjustments that might be needed because the plan needs a bit of adjustment to help during this time. And we're putting out regular frequently asked questions and information on our website to really encourage people to check those out and get as much information through there as well. We continue to try and respond to questions that come up and we put them on our website.
I might pause there, Mary. I know there will be lots of questions. I want to allow plenty of time for that. Once again, thanks for inviting the NDIA to this session.
MARY: Terrific. Thanks for that overview there, Scott. We've had some people that have come on during the course of the introduction. I just wanted to go back to some of the instructions. You will see down the bottom of your screen there's a Q&A. Please feel free to send in your questions as we're talking, as you're thinking of things. And also we do have closed captioning so at the bottom of the screen you can turn on your closed caption. So I've seen some of the questions coming in but please keep them coming.
So, Scott, just to go to our first question, and this is really a question that has come up and we have a number of people on the line who actually are not yet NDIS participants. And the question that came up was how can I get NDIS funding with the current pandemic restricting assessments?
SCOTT: Yeah. Thanks, Mary. That's a really good question. Can I just assure people there's no changes to how people can access the NDIS during this time. In actual fact what we've done recently is we've made available on our website what we call our Access Request Form and our Supporting Evidence Form so people can download that. And then they can talk to their ‑ whether it's their GPs or their specialists or their occupational therapist, whoever it is they're going to get that help in filling in those forms or supporting evidence. And they can submit those forms electronically to us now. That's been a big change. In fact I think we've had over 3,000 downloads in the first couple of weeks of that form going on line. So that's proving very popular. Of course people can still go through all those usual channels of getting information about accessing the scheme. So if you've got a child who is under the age ever of 6 you can go to our childhood partners or local area coordinator partners and their details are on the website. Or call our 1800 800 110 and you can actually start a verbal access process just by contacting us. So really important if you would like more information about access or eligibility of the scheme or you would like to test your eligibility to the scheme you can download the form, you can contact our providers ‑ early childhood or LACs or contact our 1800 number and we can give you the information and start the access process.
MARY: Sorry, Scott. I guess the message then is ‑ and we know that there has been some challenges with people accessing telehealth and the things like that but I guess the message you're giving us, Scott, is if you're stuck, give the agency a call. And the agency will be able to talk you through the process. Is that correct?
SCOTT: Yes, that's correct. Absolutely.
MARY: Yes. Fantastic. The next question, Scott, and you touched on the assistive technology arrangements that were announced. Given you've spoken a little bit about it we have some sort of more nuanced questions about that in terms of, you know, are there any restrictions on equipment that can be purchased, you know, what might differ for self‑managed participants. So perhaps if you give us a little bit of information about that in terms of the assistive technology?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. Certainly been a lot of questions around this, and, look, we were ‑ we are hearing, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of really good examples from providers about how ‑ and participants also, feedback from participants about how they've continued to be able to access their supports, that were face‑to‑face previously, but access those online. Because we don't want people to stop accessing their supports during the pandemic. We want people to keep those therapies and keep those other capacity building supports or whatever those supports they've got where they can be done online we're hearing some good things around that.
So what Minister Robert announced on the 27th of April was that participants can now use their existing funding to purchase low cost assistive technology such as smart devices. Where those devices will help them continue to access and receive their NDIS supports. So participants can spend up to $1,500 out of their existing plan on AT supports. However, most people shouldn't need to spend more than $750 on one device. And so that's some feedback we've had from AT specialists and others, that usually a standard tablet type device is around $600. So that's why there's an upper limit of $750 per device, but with an overall of $1,500. So people can use their existing budget and they can access that flexibly. They should really talk to their providers because the providers will say, "Yes, you need this. This is how we will give you your supports." And the providers will give us a letter or verify that this is going to confirm in writing that they need this device for their on going therapy supports and the participants can access that funding through their plan. And we're actually making some changes this coming weekend to make the core budget more flexible so people can access that learning if they need to.
So for plan managed and self‑managed participants they can access these fundings from any providers, self‑managed participants don't need to access, registered providers, as people know. And if you're agency managed you can purchase these from any registered NDIS provider including your therapy providers or coordinators and there are some other providers out there, more retail type providers and other providers of AT you can purchase these from. You can get on our provider finder and find those out. We do, Mary, get quite a few questions around internet and data; can you use your plan for that. It does continue to be the scheme and agency's policy that daily living expenses like grocery, like rent, like food and regular bills, including internet charges are personal expenses and, as such, your plan is not able to be used for data and those type of items. So the $1,500 is for the AT item itself.
MARY: Thank you. Thank you very much, Scott. And this is kind of a related question and it's around what you were talking about with service providers actually changing the mode of the way they deliver services. And we've had feedback from participants and their families that they're finding online therapy is not working for their child or young person. And they need more sessions than if they were doing face‑to‑face therapy. So the question really is: is the NDIS aware that the support budget may need to increase if the therapy is delivered online, and not the same outcomes as a face‑to‑face. So perhaps if more sessions are required and things like that. Perhaps if you could talk us through if people should do if they're in that stance.
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. As I mentioned before we do know that a lot of those supports that people used to access, their support worker would come to their house or they would go to their support worker's or other ‑ whether it's group therapies or other sessions are not happening to the same extent. And whilst there have been some really innovative approaches to online delivery, as you said some people it's not quite the same. But for some, look, we're still hearing some really positive things. So, look, the key message here is to talk to your provider around this. What we are ‑ some of the feedback we've had is rather than having an hour or two‑hour session, people now like to have 30 minutes or 45 minute sessions. So people are saying, "I want to have more regular but shorter sessions" or you might have shorter sessions online and once we can go back to face‑to‑face we can then move back to having longer sessions. So this is the flexibility we want people to have with their plans and with their providers to make sure they're managing it to how it best suits their needs, their child needs, the participants' needs. So really important there. And that makes sense, too, you know, if rather than a two‑hour online therapy session which isn't bearing the results of an hour face‑to‑face you might want to reduce that for a period of time and then be able to use that funding later on. So, again, talk to your therapist ‑ talk to your provider around that.
Of course, if someone's disability support needs change and they've run out of money in their plan they should contact us, contact their local area coordinator or their early childhood partner and we can talk them through around what their options are and make any necessary adjustments to the plan that may be required. It's a bit of an individual response. So what's working for you, what's working for your child, what's working with your provider, you have the flexibility, you're the ‑ you know, the funding is yours. It's not the provider's and you start talking to them more and more around how you will engage with those supports and how you might want to do more, less, and work that out over the course of your period of time. Hopefully in the next few months, Mary, we're getting some of the restrictions lifting and people can go back to more the face‑to‑face delivery but we've got to obviously respect all of those physical distancing rules for now.
MARY: Yes. Fantastic. And it was great what you said about, you know, the length of time because all of us who have been participating in these sort of online environments know sometimes the time is a little different being online to actually face‑to‑face. Thanks for picking up on that, Scott. The next question, again, is about flexibility. So can families transfer funding from one funding line to another. So core supports to capacity building, or to and from consumables. If they can do that, how do they do that?
SCOTT: Yeah. We obviously want to create as much flexibility as we can. This is a really important question. And it's one of our common questions we get through our contact centre and others. The simple message is your core budget ‑ your core budget is the most flexible. And in most cases you can use your funding across all support categories within your core. With the exception of if some participants have what we call a periodic transport plan. That's a periodic payment. What we're doing within the core budget this weekend is if people don't have funding in each of their buckets within their core budget we're putting a dollar in each of those which will then allow people to access all of their core budget more flexibly besides the transport budget I just mentioned. So that's a system change happening this weekend and we will put some messages out around that. But that's going to be a really important change because that will create even more flexibility within core.
At the moment, though, you can't just pick up your ‑ any capacity building money and move it across to core without us having a conversation with you as a planner in the conversation. This is where we would encourage you to contact us or your LAC partner. If someone does say, "I have run out of core but I want to use some of my capacity building for this support, can we move some of that money around?" Contact us, contact our 1800 number, press 5, talk to our team there and they can talk you through your flexibility options. And if need be we can have a look at your plan, review the plan and see if we can move some of that money around to create more flexibility during this time.
MARY: Thanks very much, Scott. And the next sort of questions ‑ and I can see we're getting some great questions coming through the Q&A section and hopefully we'll be able to get to those as well because there's some really terrific questions there. And keep them coming. This one's particularly ‑ given this webinar is about school‑aged children, there's been a lot of questions about using supports flexibly in the remote learning environment. So, you know, one of the questions is can we access funding to increase support worker hours given our child is not able to access their usual learning and education, you know, how can families access core supports for school‑aged children if they didn't have those types of core supports in their plan already. You know, how they can use their NDIS funding to assist with the learning from home process. So that's kind of a grab bag of ‑ a few questions in one, so we can ‑ I'm not sure how you want to handle that one, Scott. But I will hand over to you.
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. I'll give it a go. Look, I think it's important just to reiterate that the NDIS doesn't replace other support systems, we know that, such as child care or school education systems. And certainly the education system continues to have the primary responsibility of providing inclusive education supports for all students. Including the training of teachers and aids and making education accessible. But whilst it's not the role of the NDIA to provide education what we can do and certainly what we are doing is working with participants, working with families and carers to provide them with as much flexibility during this time so they can continue to get that disability support in the home. So I will give you an example of what we're seeing and hearing a bit of. So whilst it's not the role of a support worker to provide education to a NDIS participant or a child who is at home, if the child's funding ‑ the child's NDIS plan has funding for a support worker to provide in‑home supports or therapies, the families can use that funding flexibly and use those hours flexibly to support the child at home. And they can help with any of those disability‑related tasks, the support worker can be in the home and help to do that. So this is really important. It's really important that parents talk to the support workers, talk to therapists about how they can use the plans flexibly to deliver those in‑home supports so the child can continue to get their disability support needs delivered in the home. And we're hearing some more ‑ more and more examples of that working quite well. And, again, this is good conversations ‑ and if you're not sure about where to get information about support workers, get online to our website where you can find providers there, list all of the providers in each of the States and territories, there's links to the provider markets where people can connect with various support workers, and we would really encourage participants to do that.
And as I mentioned before, if you need assistance or if your funds are running low in those different parts of your plan, give us a call, call our 1800 number, 1880 800 110, talk to our team of planners there and they can give you some more advice around what some of those options are. The key message there, Mary, is talk to your support workers about using that flexibly to ensure we can continue those disability‑related supports in the home.
MARY: Sorry, just unmuting. And a question about if they don't have support workers already in their plan, is the best bet for them to do a light touch review or talk to their LAC, talk to the agency? What would you advise if their current plan ‑ because, you know, normally kids would be at school at this time ‑ isn't including what they need? Is it to come back? Is that your advice?
SCOTT: Absolutely. Come back and talk to us about those things because what we ‑ what you might have in your plan is funding for therapy or other capacity building supports which can be used to deliver those sorts of supports in the home as well. So we can talk through the various options that are available, or as the question was earlier do we need to move potentially some of the funding around in the plan to access some capacity building in the core budget. So that's another option there that we can talk through.
MARY: Terrific. Terrific. And I notice, you know, the quality just dropped out a little bit there for a while. So hopefully we are broadcasting loud and clear to you all there. And stay with us, and we will... very soon. This one is around the transition back to education but I might actually hold that off, Scott, because we've got a few related questions about education that we might come back to in the open Q&A section.
The next one comes to social and emotional supports. We have heard a lot that this is a really difficult time for children and young people with disability, the loss of some of the routines and structures that they've had in the past. So how do you think the NDIS can support participants to maintain some of those support networks that ‑ for children and young people with disability in this environment?
SCOTT: Yeah, this is another really good question, thanks, Mary. It has been a big change, hasn't it, this whole social distancing. And what I like is the shifting of that language to more physical distancing rather than social distancing. And that's a powerful ‑ a powerful change in the language because we don't want people to stay socially disconnected even if you're physically distancing. We want people to use all of those technologies that we've been talking about through Zooms and chats and phone calls and all the regular online ways that people can stay connected. We really encourage that. So, please, really encourage people to do that. Stay connected with family, stay connected with friends. Do all those things within your community. Because we will start hopefully over the coming weeks and months to be able to get back out and connect more physically with people. I've been watching the media this morning about we're able to visit our mothers on mother's day. My mother is 80. I would love to spend mother's day with her. Hopefully there will be relaxation of those rules. These are things that are really important. But we've also heard again, this goes back to some of the work providers are doing and we've heard of online dance classes, online therapies, online group social activities. And seen some really good examples of that emerging which keeps people connected. So, again, have a look out there. If your providers are not doing that or not providing that, are hunt around because we're hearing some really good and innovative ways that people are staying connected. And when we're making our proactive calls to participants this is one of the things we're checking in on, checking in to make sure they are connected, if people are at risk ‑ we know that the evidence is there that people's mental health and other sorts of, you know, disconnection can lead to depression and isolation. We really want to make sure people stay connected. If we need to refer people on to the right external agencies whether it's Beyond Blue Lifeline and others we're certainly doing that too. We want to make sure people are, if they are feeling a bit ‑ they're starting to feel a bit anxious or starting to get a bit depressed because of the disconnect we want to make sure they can reach out to some professional agencies who can help them during this period.
So really important that message is out there, talk to your providers about what you can do, stay connected through all the various online ways, and if you or you know someone who is feeling ‑ really doing it quite tough make sure they're getting the right connections to the ‑ those right professional organisations.
MARY: The next question is a bit of a related question which is going to become more important for participants as the relaxing commences, and given that, you know, many children and young people can be immunosuppressed and there's a fear of infection, we've seen how quickly it spreads, how can participants access PPE ‑ sorry, I will go away from the acronym, personal protective equipment, and commonly known as PPE which is masks, gloves, things like that. So have you got any advice there, Scott?
SCOTT: Yeah, thank you. Like all of us, we need to follow the advice of the Department of Health about when PPE or personal protective equipment is required. There were some shortages weren't there earlier, we saw all that in the media but there is a much better stockpile of PPE in the country now, which is great. So participants can talk to their providers about access to PPE. We've made PPE accessible to NDIS providers. If they're coming into your house to deliver personal supports, service providers have access to a national stockpile. And the government has essentially quarantined a supply of those PPEs for NDIS providers which is a great initiative. So that's really important. So if you are feeling like the support worker is coming to my house, I think they should have access to PPE, you can actually refer them to the national stockpile and they can get access to that.
For participants they too can contact the national stockpile if you think you are requiring some of that. I will get so that there's a Department of Health website, they've recently announced there are additional 500,000 masks available for the disability sector, which is great, includes primary health networks and the NDIA. So access those as you need to, especially in those circumstances that you mentioned, Mary, and it is pleasing to see there is more of this equipment in the country now in response to that. So get on to the Department of Health website, the national stockpile, and you can get information about how to contact them.
MARY: And that's the same for people who might be self‑managing, Scott? So can self‑managers access that national stockpile?
SCOTT: Yes, so contact them. Obviously, the priority has been to allocate that out to all the service providers first and then they will ‑ if there is additional they are making that available for ‑ hopefully for participants and self‑managed participants there. So with the increase of stockpile we're seeing more availability of that, which is great.
MARY: Terrific. Going well with these questions. We're firing them at you. Look, the next two or probably three questions are kind of about the funding and review process. I guess is there anything that you haven't said already about how reviews will change because of COVID‑19?
SCOTT: I will just reiterate a bit of work we're doing around reviews and just firstly to reassure people that your plans will not expire. If for whatever reason you have not been able to have a scheduled review of your plan, we're automatically extending your plans for 12 months. This will continue to get your ongoing funding and you can continue to receive those key supports. But we are obviously ‑ one of the big changers we're doing scheduled reviews now over the telephone in response to physical distancing. We will be contacting you and having the review conversation over the telephone. We will be offering ‑ if your circumstances are fairly stable and the plan is working well, for you to have much longer plan, up to two years, or even longer. But usually up to 24 months. Then again that just gives a longer period of certainty. And we're hearing a lot of great feedback from participants saying, "I've got a pretty good plan, I've got the right supports in place, I don't need to come in for an annual review any more. I'm happy with a longer period of time. I've got good connections. Let me get on with it", basically. So that's another option. Really just to reassure people your plans won't expire, they will all be extended for 12 months if you don't have a review before then. So if your review is coming up, we normally contact you between sort of two to three months before you're to review your plan and start a conversation around that. So we will continue to do that via the phone.
MARY: What about, Scott, if because of the changed circumstances because of the COVID‑19 your current plan ‑ you're not near the end of it, you might be in the middle of it and it's not fit for purpose any more. What would you recommend then?
SCOTT: Yes, because of the COVID pandemic and because of any critical changes of circumstances that you have, you can contact us or your local area coordinator or your partner and ask for review of your plan. They will first talk to you around have you got existing funding to use flexibly but then of course if there has been change of circumstances, we can do a review of your plan and make sure you've got the right funding for your disability supports you need.
MARY: Fantastic. Thank you. Again, the message I'm hearing is get in touch. If things aren't working, get in touch and talk to, you know, your LAC, talk to your early childhood intervention partner, give the hot line a call. Yeah, so reach out if you're struggling. So thank you, Scott.
The next question relates to some of the changes that have come around because of COVID. And one of them is if people can't use all their plans because, you know, if they can't use the funds that they've got in their plan, will they be disadvantaged if they can't utilise a large proportion of the funds because of COVID‑19?
SCOTT: Yeah. Look, this is a really good question again. And we've talked a bit about how service delivery has changed because of COVID. So some of those ‑ the ways in which you traditionally got your supports has changed and if you can't access all of those online now, it may mean that you haven't been able to use all of your funding. I can assure people they won't be disadvantaged because of that. As I said hopefully over the next weeks or months we will be able to get back out and access those supports how we used to access those supports. When you come to your review, of course we will take all of that into consideration. As we review the plan it's really about what are your roles and aspirations, what are the disability support needs you need for the next 12 months or two years regardless of what you had in your last plan. So you won't be disadvantaged because of that. We're very conscious of what's gone on over the past few months. So you don't need to be anxious about that at all. We will look at what are your requirements for the upcoming plan and what we need to fund accordingly.
MARY: Fantastic. Thank you, Scott. And we are having a little bit of lagging with the technology. The whole of Australia might be on a Zoom meeting at the moment. So stay with us and be patient. The last question before we go to our Q&A Scott is around decision that was made to support service providers. We know everyone in the economy has been affected by the COVID‑19 situation. And that decision was to enable service providers to charge a 10 per cent price increase but the plans weren't increased. Again, it comes to that question around concern about, you know, plans might run out more quickly. What can participants do around that?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. So just to reassure people around this one as well. This was a ‑ we want to make sure you've always got the right amount of supports in your plan. This change was put in place to really shore up the provider network so they could continue to deliver those key services for participants. So providers, it's a temporary loading and a temporary change to the cancellation fee, we will be reviewing that shortly. And, really, if a participant runs out of funding because of that, then that's something that we will review as part of their plan, they can contact us if they are concerned that their funds are running low and we can discuss their options and look to review the plan and disability support funds within their plan. Most people across the country don't always spend all of their plan each year. So we call it utilisation rate. Most people don't utilise 100 per cent of their plan. So we think given it's a temporary change for a small period of time, that we should be able to absorb it within the existing plan but if personally that's not your situation, then, again, Mary, really encourage people to contact us or their local area coordinator and we can talk through the options there but you won't be disadvantaged.
MARY: Thanks very much, Scott. Really appreciate it. So we've got quite a lot of questions. I'm not sure if we're going to get through to them but I might ‑ before we get to ‑ because there's some specific education‑related questions. There was just a couple of process questions and it comes back to our access question at the very first question is people are finding it difficult to get supportive documentation when specialists and therapists will not conduct assessments for a report. So what do you advise in that situation, and happy if you need to take that one on notice as well.
SCOTT: Yeah, we can provide some more information, Mary, about this one. This is an issue that ‑ it's probably not actually specifically related to COVID. It's about how participants ‑ potential participants, I should say, need to access the right evidence to support their access to the scheme. So the beauty of the ability to download the access request online is GPs and specialists and others can also have access to that electronically. So if some of them are willing to do the assessments over the zooms and other things like that. So try and connect in with your specialist or therapist who can complete their section of the access request and supporting evidence form via online if that works for them to be able to get that. Again, supporting evidence, as you read through the form, it can be your GP, can be a specialist, can be an allied health specialist, an OT, can be from a broad range of people. If your child is under the age of 6, I really encourage you to connect first with our early childhood partners because they are trained as specialists, so they're childhood experts, and they will actually talk you through the process and what you may or may not need to support access. And local area coordinator partners can also assist for children over the age of 7 as well.
MARY: Terrific. Thanks, Scott. Then we had another question about the NDIA call centre. And if people have a COVID‑related question, will they be able to be answered by the call centre?
SCOTT: Yes. So when you dial our 1800 number, the messages will come up, we call them IVR messages. It's number 5. And that goes off ‑ so you press 5 after you've gone through and that goes off to our COVID team who are the more specialist staff there who will help with all your COVID‑related queries, about plan flexibility, access to PPEs, those sorts of things.
MARY: Fantastic. People need to ring the number and press 5. That's great. I might get to some of the school questions, if that's okay, Scott. And some of them, you know, happy again if they're ones that you need to take on notice. One of them is around the teachers and the schools not providing reasonable adjustments for students with disability with the curriculum. Can the NDIA use ‑ or can the NDIS funding be used to engage the services of an inclusive education specialist to help in the home. And that might be one of those tricky ones that might need a bit more of a longer answer, so ‑ or more thought from a policy position. So happy if you need to take that one on notice and we can get back to people.
SCOTT: Yeah, we might get some more information about this, Mary. At a very high level it is really ‑ the education system's role is to continue to provide those reasonable adjustments and provide those supports to provide an inclusive education environment. That is the role of education. What is the role of the NDIA is to make sure that we can provide the required disability‑related supports that student, that child needs in the home. So if that is disability support worker, a support worker assisting that child with their disability‑related needs, as I mentioned, use your funding flexibilities to do that. Otherwise, you should be talking to your school, talking to the teachers, the integration aids around what supports they can continue to deliver in the school system. It is coming up a fair bit, Mary, but we might look at what other information we can provide around that. Also referrals through the various education systems whether you can get more information around your needs for your child.
MARY: Yeah. And I think, Scott, a little bit more information would be really good because a lot of these questions are coming up, and one's about the consistency of information. So one LAC had warned a participant not to use a support worker to assist with some of the home environment that might facilitate learning at home, and was warned they may need to pay back their NDIS funds. So I think what's coming through the line is some concerns about that blurriness that has shifted. So I think ‑ I don't know if you want to respond to that one or perhaps we can think about some more work on some guidance around ‑ on that.
SCOTT: Yeah, let's do that. I think clearly there's a bit of a need for some more information in that space. So we will work on some information and get that out through yourself and through your website, etcetera.
MARY: Terrific. Terrific. And, yeah, again, concerns that people might need to pay back money if they do the wrong thing. So I'm getting the sense from the questions that are coming in, people are really wanting to do the right thing but they also knowing that this time is very complex, and the delineation is less clear than it's been when children go off to school during the day. Yeah.
SCOTT: Yeah, good. And I think the message really ‑ as long as you're using your plan for your child's disability‑related needs, even if that's a therapist in the home or a support worker in the home because their disability‑related needs, that's what your funding is for. Okay. If you stick to that as a high‑level principle, I think that's the right message. So we'll continue to get some clearer messages out for people.
MARY: Okay. I'm just going back through the questions, just making sure that ‑ yeah. If I had to summarise, Scott, I would say the majority of the questions are about the education interface that are coming through and people wanting some clear information about what's possible, what's not possible, and just some guidance. So that's terrific. And we'll look forward to working with you on some of that as well.
In terms of other questions, we haven't had any other questions that have come through at the moment. If anyone wants to get on that Q&A, please do so. We'll give you a moment to add any more concluding questions. But I guess while we've got a captive audience ‑ and we will send you this when we send the link to the video ‑ we do have an education survey open at the moment where we're actually ‑ CYDA is collecting information from your people with disabilities and from families about what their educational experience is at the moment. So that we can use that information to help all our stakeholders, including the NDIA, are to understand what the current situation is. So whilst we may not be able to cover everything today, your feedback will be really gratefully received and you will get an email from us when we send you the link to the video following this so that you can complete the survey and tell us what the experience is, and that way we can make sure that we can give back the information. So just a little bit of a plug there.
Scott, is there any concluding remarks that you would like to make?
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. I think it's just reiterating some of the messages around ‑ we get a lot of queries in our contact centre around can I use my funding for this or I don't have enough funding in my plan for these aspects." It's really important we continue to provide good information around using plans flexibly. Some people don't realise how much flexibility there are in their plans. So that's an ongoing message and communication piece for the agency to create that. So I hope the listeners in there have got a bit more of a sense of how to use their plans flexibly. We don't want people to stop getting the supports during this time. We want them to get as much support as they can and then hopefully over the coming months as we transition out of the lockdown period, that we can start to get back to getting supports how we used to get them or some combination either/or. Again, just to reiterate, we've said it a few times, Mary, haven't we: if you are unsure, please don't stew on it at home. Give us a call. Talk to your LAC partner or early childhood partner if your child is under 6 and we will give you as much information as we can to help you out through this difficult and challenging time.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you very much, Scott. And, you know, it's been wonderful to partner with the agency. Great to hear the responses to the questions that we've put through, and also just to reiterate that children and young people with disability Australia, if you've got any concerns you can contact us as well or if you've got any follow‑up questions that you would like us to follow up with the NDIA, we're more than happy to do that. When you get the follow‑up email after this webinar we will have our contact details as well so you can contact us. But it sounds like, Scott, probably best bet, come back to the agency in the first instance, come back to your LAC, and then, yeah, then hopefully you will get the answers you need. So thank you very much, Scott. Thank you to Celeste and Christine, who have been our Auslan interpreters. Thank you to Helen who has been doing the captioning. And thank you to all of you for your interest in today's webinar and we look forward to continuing to work with you. We will be putting this video online. Hopefully either later today or first thing tomorrow and we will contact you so you can actually view the video, plus the transcript online. So thanks, everyone. And I hope you have a great day.